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Is a rock considered a “deadly weapon”?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Aug 28, 2019 | 0 Comments

man throwing large rock

A rock may be considered a deadly weapon. Criminal laws generally say that an object is a deadly weapon if it can be used in a manner that makes it capable of producing death or great bodily injury.

Given this definition, a “deadly weapon” may include such things as:

  • rocks,
  • bottles, and
  • BB guns.

Penal Code 245a1, is the California statute on the law of assault with a deadly weapon (“ADW”).

This law says that an ADW is an assault committed with either:

  • a deadly weapon, or
  • by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.

A violation of PC 245a1 is a California wobbler offense, which means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Is a rock a “deadly weapon?”

A rock may be considered a deadly weapon in the context of criminal laws.

These laws generally state that something can be labeled a “deadly weapon” if someone can use it to produce:

  • death, or
  • great bodily injury.

Naturally, this definition includes the obvious deadly weapons such as guns and knives. But other items which are not usually considered weapons can be deadly weapons if they are used in a way that could kill someone or cause them substantial harm.

Some examples include:

  • rocks (if thrown at someone or used in a slingshot),
  • an unloaded gun (if used to club or hit someone),
  • a bottle (if used to attack someone),
  • a pencil (if used to stab someone),
  • a BB gun,
  • a dog that will attack humans on command, and
  • a car (if used in an attempt to run someone down).

"Great bodily injury" is a legal term that basically means what it says - "great" bodily injury. Examples include:

  • dog bites,
  • broken bones,
  • a black and swollen eye,
  • burns,
  • abrasions, and
  • gunshot wounds.

What is the California crime of assault with a deadly weapon, per Penal Code 245a1?

Penal Code 245a1 is the California law that defines an ADW as an assault committed with either:

  • a deadly weapon, or
  • by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.

An assault is generally defined as an attempt to commit a violent injury on someone else.

Examples of an assault with a deadly weapon are:

  • in a fit of road rage, Juan fires his gun at the driver of another car, who has cut him off.
  • during a fight with her boyfriend, Nia attempts to stab him with a screwdriver.
  • Ken instructs his dog, a ferocious German shepherd, to attack his neighbor.

What are the penalties for assault with a deadly weapon?

As stated above, PC 245a1 says that the crime of assault with a deadly weapon can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, at the prosecutor's discretion.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the California state prison for up to four years, and/or
  • a fine of up to $10,000.

Please note, though, that if an ADW involved a semiautomatic firearm, then the crime will always be a felony. Further, it could carry a state prison sentence of up to nine years.

Are there legal defenses to charges of assault with a deadly weapon?

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Penal Code 245a1. A successful defense can work to reduce or even dismiss an ADW charge.

Three common defenses include that the defendant:

  1. did not use a deadly weapon,
  2. did not act willfully, and
  3. acted in self-defense.

As to the first defense, note that this could work in cases where an accused committed an assault with an object that is highly unlikely to be classified as a deadly weapon. For example, perhaps the defendant used an inflated balloon or a paper cup of water.

As to the last defense, please note that California law says that all of the following must be true for the defense of self-defense to work:

  • a person reasonably believed that he or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully,
  • the person reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and
  • the person used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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